House Dems Press Amazon's Bezos on Fake Reviews

Some top Dems are not happy with Amazon's oversight, or lack of it, of bogus online product reviews and want to know what Amazon gets out of the practice.

Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone (N.J.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), chairman of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, have written Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with concerns about "fraudulent and deceptive product ratings and reviews on Amazon’s online marketplace that can be harmful both to consumers and to businesses that play by the rules."

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They also want to know whether Amazon itself benefits from the sale of products promoted by fake ratings and reviews.

The letter follows reports that questioned the integrity of products hyped with "blatantly fake" reviews, often dominating the front page of Amazon search, and many including an "Amazon's choice" label.

It is just the latest volley in a fusillade of criticism from the Hill aimed at edge providers and comes following reports that the Amazon marketplace was being systematically gamed.

“Online reviews significantly affect consumers’ shopping decisions and it is important that Amazon proactively protect consumers from such misleading and harmful behavior,” the legislators wrote. “The use of the ‘Amazon’s Choice’ label on these products is of particular concern because your company’s website promotes these products to consumers as ‘highly rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately.”

Back in February, the Federal Trade Commission settled with a company for allegedly paid for fabricated reviews on Amazon promoting its weight-loss supplement, which Pallone and Schakowsky cited in their letter.

The legislators want the following information from Bezos by July 30:

1. "How does Amazon identify, prevent, and respond to fraudulent or deceptive product reviews? If Amazon’s processes have evolved over time, please describe how they have changed. "

2. "What steps has Amazon taken within the last 12 months to prevent or remove fraudulent or deceptive product ratings and reviews?"

3. "Please identify the ten product categories with the highest number of deceptive or fraudulent product reviews, as determined by Amazon, and state the number of deceptive or fraudulent product ratings or reviews found for each such category in the past 12 months.

4. "How does Amazon determine whether to label a product as “Amazon’s Choice?”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.